Environmental (In)justice in Mni Sóta Maḳoce (Minnesota)

Thank you to everyone who shared a story!  

Environmental (In)justice in Mni Sóta Maḳoce, a collaborative project of the Saint Paul Almanac and the University of St. Thomas Sustainable Communities Partnership, seeks to uplift voices from communities across Mni Sóta Maḳoce (Minnesota) who have been affected by climate change and environmental injustice and who envision an environmentally just future.  Read about the project from the St. Thomas Newsroom

Congratulations Winning Entries! 
Works are published in Saint Paul Alamanc.


“Children of Michigan” by Stephani Maari Booker

“Let Us Consider” by Christine Mounts

“Fire Medicine” by Sagirah Shahid

 Creative Nonfiction:

“Big Lake Smelt Don’t Lie” by Robert Hale

“Animal Economics” by Eric Wilkinson (University of St. Thomas student category)

 Visual Arts:

“I want my future back” by Evelyn Staats


This community storytelling contest uplifts narratives that speak to the harsh realities of environmental injustice as well as ones that imagine an environmentally just future.  

Our main goal was to honor as many voices and forms of storytelling as possible. As such, we were open to many formats and genres. There was no fee to enter this contest.  Our contest Curators Said Shaiye and Brad Hagen developed guides to inspire all who have a story to share it.  


Our contest Curators and judges, local writers/photographers Said Shaiye and Brad Hagen, approach the concept of environmental injustice from a particular perspective. 

Storytelling Guides

From Said Shaiye

When I think of environmental justice as a Black immigrant, I’m thinking of actions that have affected people in the lands they came from & the lands they now call home, from Africa to America & everywhere in between. I think of the common theme connecting these people and places: economic exploitation that causes suffering in people, suffering for the Earth. I’m also thinking of the wide diversity of national backgrounds represented within the twin cities, and how many types of injustice, both environmental and otherwise, brought those people here (Hmong, Oromo, Liberian, Arab, Somali, etc). Climate change is exacerbating those types of excursions. And of course, the historical injustices committed against Native & African American communities who continue to be disenfranchised and systemically held back from healing, as even more traumas are piled on top of the historic ones, with no sight of restitution or reparations in sight.

From Brad Hagen

As an Ojibwe person, when I think of environmental justice, I’m thinking of how our actions today will affect those seven generations from now and how our decisions will impact not resources, but relatives: Water, trees, plants, animals – those with whom we share this land. To act with environmental justice is, for me, to act with respect toward the rest of creation. It’s when we don’t mind our relations that injustices occur. Pollutants filling lakes and rivers, choking the fish who reside there; carbon emissions raising temperatures around the globe, causing illness and displacement; pipelines slinking beneath waterways, threatening both safety and sovereignty among tribal nations; these things are all at the forefront of my mind when I think of the environment.  


Contest Details

Our main goal is to honor as many voices and forms of storytelling as possible.As such, we are open to many formats and genres. 

  • Poetry
    Poetry doesn’t need to be anything you don’t want it to be. What we mean by this is: don’t limit your creative expression to what we’ve all been taught poetry “is supposed to look like.” Have a spoken word piece you recorded then transcribed onto a word doc? Send it in. A free-verse multimedia piece with pictures and words that holds deep meaning for you? We want that, too. Basically: don’t limit yourself. Poetry is quite literally anything you want it to be. It can also come in traditional poetic forms such as haikus, sonnets, memoir-in-verse, and so forth. Whatever you submit, make sure it’s something that speaks deeply to you. We want to feel what you feel.  You may include up to 5 individual poems per submission.  Each individual poem can be up to 2 word document pages long.  (Total submission should not exceed 10 pages.) 

  • Nonfiction
    Creative Nonfiction (CNF) can be an elusive form of writing to describe. It encompasses the breadth of prose writing which isn’t poetry or fiction. Basically, a real story told in compelling ways that doesn’t embellish or exaggerate the events which it describes. Nonfiction can include (but isn’t limited to): academic writing, personal essays, travelogue, narrative pieces (that tell a story based in fact), and so on. For these submissions, we’re looking for nonfiction pieces between 1,000 and 3,000 words. Please don’t think of this as some boring essay like you had to write for school. Here are two examples of nonfiction that vary widely from what you may be thinking of nonfiction as: The Souls of Latarian Milton by Donald Quist & The Life of LaMelo by Mirin Fader. CNF really is a wide open genre, but we are often given very limited definitions of what it can be. If any piece of writing can save a life, who are we to limit what that writing looks like? Perhaps your piece resembles a prose poem more than an essay. Perhaps you think of it more like a painting than an essay.   We know every submission guideline asks for “weird hybrid pieces” to the point where it’s become very cliche. We’ll try not to use those words but: please do send us your pieces which may not fit the traditional definition of CNF.  And if you'd like to delve into the genre of memoir, check out Brad Hagen's craft guide.
  • Fiction
    The act of writing fiction is an act of imagination and representation. Fiction can come in many different forms, but the basic idea is: a story. Tell us a story which comes from your imagination. It can be a speculative story, an Afrofuristic story, a super-short story, a story told in the style of a poem, or just two characters having a dialogue. At the end of the day, your imagination is the only limitation. Make the story as expansive or as contracted as your heart desires, but please keep the story length between 1,000 and 3,000 words.  If your story needs to go on a little longer, that’s fine.

  • Visual and Auditory Formats
    We realize that the traditional written forms of poetry, fiction & nonfiction can be really limiting or intimidating for a lot of people. That’s why we want you to think of self-expression in broader terms. We want to see your audio poems, photography, sketches, paintings, short films, choreography, data visualizations, and even more. Have a spoken word piece you recorded as a video or audio? Send it in. Basically, if it has a visual or audible component, we want to see/hear it. Whatever mode of self-expression you can think of that can be recorded, captured, drawn, or spoken, send it here.

    For visual pieces:  please send no more than 5 photographs/drawings/paintings per artist. The images must be high-resolution—300 dpi or higher—at 11 inches wide.  It is fine to submit a low-resolution version of your image for selection purposes, but please be prepared to submit a final image that is of the highest quality.

    For audio/video:  Please limit your audio/video submissions to about 5 mins for audio and about 10 mins for video. Please submit the URL to the audio or video file; we're not able to accept audio or video file types.  
  • Other
    If you think of a format or genre not listed here, feel free to submit it. We are looking for the unusual just as much as the expected.

This contest is open to all Minnesota residents 18 years old and older, and all students 18 years old and older who are currently enrolled in a college or university located in Minnesota, regardless of residency.   

  • Five $100 prizes, open to all eligible participants.
  • One $100 prize, open to all eligible University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) students.

April 1, 2022, 11:59pm

By submitting your entry, you acknowledge and agree to the following contest terms and conditions:   

  • You are a Minnesota resident 18 years old or older, or you are currently enrolled as a student attending a college or university that is located in Minnesota and are 18 years old or older.
  • Your entry is your original work and does not infringe upon the intellectual property or other rights of any person or entity.
  • Your entry does not contain profanity, threats or sexually explicit content.
  • You retain copyright to your entry, subject to licenses granted to the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) and the Saint Paul Almanac, as further described in these terms and conditions. These licenses are non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual and worldwide.
  • The University of St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Almanac are permitted to display and publish your submission online, in print media, and in any other venue, including social media. To the extent available space allows, the publication or display of your submission will be accompanied by attribution to you.
  • The University of St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Almanac are permitted to use your name for attribution purposes and for purposes of publicizing contest winners.
  • The University of St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Almanac are permitted to edit your submission for display and publication purposes, to ensure compliance with their respective publication and content standards, size, space and format constraints, and similar reasons.
  • The University of St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Almanac are permitted to use your submission, or elements of your submission, as the basis for or as part of derivative works created by, for or on behalf of the University of St. Thomas and/or the Saint Paul Almanac, including (but not limited to) an integrative piece about the contest as a whole and in connection with future community engagement and educational activities by the University of St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Almanac. When integrated into another work, to the extent available space allows, your name will be identified as a contributor to the work, but may not be directly tied to your submission as incorporated into the integrative work.
  • The University of St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Almanac may use your submission for promotional, marketing, advertising, and noncommercial, educational and research purposes consistent with their respective missions.
  • The University of St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Almanac may choose when to use your submission or not to use it at all.
  • If you are selected as a prize recipient, you will need to submit a Form W-9 to receive your prize money.
  • If you are selected as a prize recipient, you will be responsible for all tax consequences associated with the prize.
  • Your submission will not be returned to you.
  • Your failure to comply with these terms and conditions will result in the disqualification of your entry. 

Here are helpful websites and resources to learn more about environmental justice and current controversies in Minnesota.